So on Monday I mentioned sandalwood, and I’ve got some other stuff on the back burner, but the great thing about being a perfume fiend with a large sample collection is that I had several things on hand, so fasten your seatbelt for a ramble, with more to follow eventually.
First off were my older samples of 10 Corso Como and Diptyque Tam Dao. Both of these fragrances have apparently been reformulated, not due to IFRA regs but because of the shortage of Mysore sandalwood. So in this case it’s not a safety issue. Mysore sandalwood is perfectly safe, as are all other things that are natural and from the environment. Like radon. And arsenic. Anyhow, I have no idea how closely my samps match what’s on the shelves right now.
10 Corso Como (rose, geranium, oud-wood resin, vetiver, sandalwood and musk) is Exhibit A in my battle with wearable sandalwood. It’s rough and raspy and once I become mentally aware that the rose is there it’s too much, you know how I feel about rose, and the oud probably pushes it over the edge for me. However, I also remembered that I had a bottle of 10CC lotion from my trip to LA – still wrapped in its cellophane (duh). So I trotted that out, and … okay, that’s nice. As is often the case with a fragrance you sort of like, but wish were toned down a little (hello, Black Cashmere!) the lotion provides a viable alternative to the fragrance. The lotion is definitely more muted, and also extremely moisturizing. The problem with body-product alternative if you wear it like a perfume (i.e., in small quantities and only occasionally) is that, at least in my experience, it tends to go off eventually – and there are few things more revolting to the nose than a body lotion that’s gone a bit rancid. I had this same problem recently with my old tube of Black Cashmere, although I keep my lotions in the same cool space as my perfume. Anyhoo, 10CC lotion is nice but not perfect. For me.
Tam Dao, at least my sample, smells pretty much like pure sandalwood, with a resiny undertone, although in the recent review in The Guide, Tania Sanchez describes it as smelling more like new wood furniture than sandalwood, which is definitely a change (although she still gives it three stars and says it’s probably better as a room spray than a personal fragrance.) My vintage-y sample of Tam Dao goes right up my nose and starts pounding on my sinuses in a headache-inducing fashion. (Notes: rosewood, cypress, ambergris, and sandalwood.) However, I speculated, and Robin at NST agreed, that Tam Dao layered with Diptyque Philosykos might be excellent. And it was, which is how I buried it so it would stop hurting me. For those of you who like fig in theory but find its creamy sweetness overwhelming, some sandalwood underneath adds a nice dry, woody heft.
So then I dug up my bottle of Serge Lutens Santal Blanc, which Robin also suggested, and that was fascinating. Because I always think of Santal Blanc as that weird Serge that smells like a big, freshly sharpened pencil – an ideal pencil, mind you, a pencil that had been blessed by Serge himself, absent the cumin and the dried fruits. Smelling Santal Blanc after 10CC and Tam Dao allowed me to focus for the first time on its sandalwood – and again, I’ve had my bottle for several years, for all I know it’s been reformulated as well due to the sandalwood shortage. Anyway, I know it’s early yet, but Santal Blanc may in fact be my perfect sandalwood. Notes courtesy of NST are white sandalwood, cinnamon, fenugreek, pink pepper, rose, jasmine, orris root, musk, benzoin and copaiba balsam. What I love about Santal Blanc, revisiting it with an eye toward sandalwood, is that the rest of the notes are muted and the ride is incredibly smooth. It has almost no development on me, perhaps a hair sweeter at the top, but I can’t pick out the florals (including the rose, thank God), and can I just use the word smooth again? It’s got enough of the extra ingredients that the sandalwood doesn’t start attacking my brain. In The Guide, TS calls it “a more lighthearted study of sandalwood’s charms, with its bright, fresh floral charm and raisin sweetness.” It’s not raisiny sweet on me – in fact it’s the driest Serge I own – but I agree with the lighthearted part. Being Serge, it lasts forever on me, and, again, some Philosykos thrown on top is terrific as well.
To any newbies or lurkers: personally, I find picking a note – like sandalwood, or incense, or rose, or jasmine – and exploring a bunch of perfumes that highlight that note, both fun and informative. You get a sense of how different something like a rose can smell in a fragrance, and sometimes you’ll run across something you like so much that you then decide to explore everything else that particular line (or that perfumer) has to offer.
Finally, a public service announcement (because I can) to those in the D.C. area: this is the last couple of weeks for the National Gallery of Art’s The Darker Side of Light, a fascinating and creepy set of lithographs, drypoints and etchings from the latter half of the 19th century. If you’ve ever stood in front of yet another life-sized oil of, say, Louis XV and been guiltily bored out of your mind, here’s a whole new way to look at art — the sort that was kept private, for intense, detailed study. Lots of dreamscapes and fantastical images, yours for the perusing, free. I hear the guided tour is excellent.